Hope and Hester Atcherley’s school days

Sisters Mary Elizabeth Hope Atcherley and Hester Mary Eleanor Atcherley – Hope and Hester – attended The Queen’s School in Chester from around 1904 until just before the First World War. Thanks to the online archive of the school’s magazine Have Mynde, it is possible to follow the Atcherley sisters’ progress through those years and share some of the experiences of their school days.

Hope and Hester were daughters of solicitor Richard Topping Beverley Atcherley and his wife Caroline Mary Wynne (nee Ffoulkes). They were born at Hatch End in Pinner, Middlesex, Hope in 1894 and Hester in 1895. The family later moved to Caroline’s home city of Chester. A newspaper article mentioning “Mr. R. Atcherley, of 9, Stanley Place” indicates that they were established there by November 1903. Other sources dating from 1904 onwards give the Atcherleys’ address as 6 Stanley Place.

It was not until 1906 that the name Atcherley was first seen in Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual. Every year, the magazine reported on the “successes … gained by Pupils of the Queen’s School during the past year” in Public Examinations. In the 1905 Local Centre Examination of the Associated Boards of the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, both M. E. H. Atcherley (Hope) and H. M. E. Atcherley (Hester) passed in the Elementary Division, Piano. Hope had also passed in Division I of the Royal Drawing Society of Great Britain and Ireland examination, in June 1905, and I suspect she was the “H. Atcherley” who received a Grade I certificate from the London Institute for the Advancement of Plain Needlework that year.

The Queen’s School today. Photo by Jean Mottershead.

The results of these examinations continued to feature one or both of the Atcherley sisters’ names in most of the ensuing editions of Have Mynde up to that of 1912. Gradually, Hope and Hester moved up the divisions or grades of the exams, sometimes with a pass, sometimes with honours. In the 1910-11 school year Hope and Hester were both successful in the Higher Division (Piano) of the music examinations. In the same year Hope gained a certificate at Grade V of the needlework exam. During the following year Hester passed in Division V of the Royal Drawing Society of Great Britain and Ireland examination, while Hope gained honours in the same Division and passed in Division VI.

The names of both Hope and Hester also appeared from time to time in connection with the school’s annual distribution of prizes. The 1907 event took place in the Town Hall on 7 November, when Lady Grosvenor distributed the prizes. Hope Atcherley, then of Form III Lower in the Middle School, received a prize for Scripture. In 1908, she was presented with prizes for both Scripture and Sewing, while Hester was recognised in the category of “Distinctions in Examinations”. Other pupils were given prizes for Mathematics, Arithmetic, Natural Science & Geography, French & Latin, German, English Language & Literature, English & History, Drawing, Music (Pianoforte), Cricket, Hockey, Tennis and Games (General Excellence).

Further prizes were received by the girls in 1910 (Hope Atcherley, for Sewing), and in 1912 (Hester Atcherley, for Scripture). Hope, meanwhile, also received recognition for her botanical drawings in the Royal Drawing Society’s Annual Exhibitions of Paintings. She was commended in the Second Class in 1909-10, received an award in the Fourth Class the following year, and was again commended in the Second Class in 1911-12.

The Atcherley sisters seem not to have excelled in sporting activities. A report in the 1911 issue of Have Mynde shows that during the 1910 season of the school’s tennis club, Hope Atcherley had participated in the “Inter-Form Tournament for Miss Clay’s trophy” which took place on 27 and 28 July. With M Finchett for IV Form Upper, Hope beat B Stewart and M Swire of Form V Lower in the first round, 6—3, 6—1. In the second round however, Atcherley and Finchett lost to the Form III Upper team, 6—1, 6—1. I have found no other references to either Hope or Hester in connection with the school’s tennis, hockey or cricket matches.

As for academic subjects, in the July 1913 examinations of the Oxford and Cambridge Joint Board, Hester Atcherley gained Higher Certificates in Botany and French. I have found no indication of any similar achievement by Hope Atcherley.

A fascinating insight into the minds of the young ladies of the Queen’s School is provided by the following account of the School’s Debating Society meeting of 20 February 1913. Proposer of the motion ‘England is declining’  was “H. Atcherley” (Hope, or Hester?).

The Proposer opened the debate by saying that English character was beyond all doubt deteriorating: hardships were invariably shunned—even corporal punishment was strictly limited; religion was becoming ineffective, as shewn by the Disestablishment Bill; manners were deteriorating, (the men being discourteous and the women unwomanly). Patriotism was a thing of the past; the Colonies, and even Ireland, were demanding self-government; in fact, the Empire was simply falling to pieces.

The Opposer replied by saying that character was much improved; drunkenness, at least, was no longer a common vice; moreover Britons were, to foreigners, examples of truth and courage, and were taught self-reliance by their games. With regard to self-government for the Colonies, it was only natural that, as growing countries, they should require these; nor would it be to England’s benefit that they should be entirely dependent on her. The Empire was perfectly patriotic and united. …

E. Brotherton here renewed the question of religion, and how greatly it was falling off.

The Proposer deplored the absence of Church-going, and the fact that people were no longer compelled to go. …

An eager discussion followed as to the respective merits of French and English aviators; but here the President rose to call upon the Proposer to sum up. In spite of her convincing speech, the motion that ‘England is declining’ was negatived by twelve votes to six.

Both Hope and Hester became members of The Queen’s School Association of Past and Present Pupils. Hester joined the association’s committee for 1912-13 and served again the following academic year. Hope was listed as a member of the association in the 1913 edition of Have Mynde, but from 1914 both sisters’ names appeared in the list of members. By 1916 Hope was a life member, having paid the required sum of one guinea. Hester was elected Assistant Secretary in 1914 and again 1915. She may also have been the “H. Atcherley” elected as one of two Honorary Secretaries in 1917, but she had not paid her subscription for the 1917-18 year.

It was not only as members of the Association of Past and Present Pupils that the names of Hope and Hester Atcherley appeared in Have Mynde from 1915 to 1918. These were of course years during which the First World War was raging – and the Atcherley sisters were both very active on the Home Front during that time. In this connection, the final words of this article by Hester Atcherley, published in the 1913 edition of Have Mynde, had greater meaning than Hester could possibly have imagined at the time:

The First Aid and Sick Nursing Classes.

During the Winter and Spring Terms, we received an interesting course of First Aid and Sick Nursing Lectures, Kindly given by Mrs. Drinkwater. The classes were open to all girls from the Upper IV. upwards, and about twenty-six joined, and the science room proved ideal for our work.

It was, indeed, surprising to find how little we knew concerning the treatment of quite slight accidents. Most of us came thinking we could pride ourselves on knowing how to treat a case of nose-bleeding. But we soon discovered our mistake. We were all very keen and rapidly made good progress, and Mrs. Drinkwater expressed her approval of our zeal.

I think we nearly all liked the last part of each lesson best, when we were shown the uses of the triangular bandage and afterwards put them into practice ourselves. It is such an unassuming bandage, and yet can be turned into innumerable shapes as the case requires. At first, it provided us with some amusement too: the sight of our friends, a moment ago hale and hearty, transformed into sufferers with broken arms and fractured jaws proved too much for our feelings. But this frivolity soon worked off, and we became serious and hard-working.

The lectures came all too soon to an end, and we found ourselves to face to face with an examination. We had all done our best and revised most diligently for this examination, and yet most of us dreaded it. Somehow, it seemed so different from other Examinations. It was the not knowing quite what to expect that alarmed us. But all is well that ends well, for, happily to say, every candidate passed the examination.

Then, during Spring Term, came a series of classes on a first course of Sick Nursing. On the whole, these were not as interesting as those on First Aid. There did not seem to be so much scope for putting our knowledge into practice. The roller bandages were much more exciting than the triangular, the only drawback being the wearisome rolling up after each time.

It would be unfair not to give a word of praise to the small children from the lower Forms who, in many cases, acted as patients. They were very good, for our exactions were great. In one case we had a very good little patient, who allowed herself to be tucked up in bed, and lay motionless while each pupil made her bed.

We are now anxiously awaiting an examination, and hoping we shall not forget what to do when the time comes. 

Picture credits. The Queen’s School, Chester: Photo by Jean Mottershead, taken from her Flickr photostream and used under a Creative Commons Licence. Map of the British Empire: Image from page 6 of History of England and the British Empire, published 1893; taken from the British Library Flickr photostream, no known copyright restrictions. Roller bandage: Image from page 20 of Minor surgery and bandaging,published 1902; taken from Internet Archive, out of copyright.


[1] Birth of Elizabeth Hope Atcherley registered at Hendon, March quarter 1894; volume 3a, page 158.
[2] Birth of Hester Atcherley registered at Hendon, June quarter 1895; volume 3a, page 164.
1901 census of England and Wales. Piece 1210, folio 51, page 38.
[3] Tamworth Herald, 14 Nov 1903, page 6. The Hyde Child Murder.
[4] London Gazette, issue 27661, 25 Mar 1904, page 1972.
[5] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1906), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, May 1906.
[6] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1907), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, May 1907.
[7] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1908), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, May 1908.
[8] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1909), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1909.
[9] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1910), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1910.
[10] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1911), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1911.
[11] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1912), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1912.
[12] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1913), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1913.
[13] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1914), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1914.
[14] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1915), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1915.
[15] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1918), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, June 1918.
Note: All digitised copies of Have Mynde can be accessed from the Have Mynde Archive.

The disappearance of David Atcherley

Yesterday, one of my Google searches for an incorrect spelling of the surname Atcherley led me to a fantastic find on YouTube: a short British Pathé film featuring Air Vice Marshall David Francis William Atcherley. It is the first film of David that I have found – and it may also be the final film in which this Atcherley twin appeared. Less than 4 months after the footage was captured, David disappeared without trace while flying over the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt and Cyprus.

Having served as Basil Embry’s Senior Air Staff Officer at Fighter Command from 21 Jan 1950, in January 1952 AVM David Atcherley took up a new post as Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of 205 Group, Middle East Air Force, in Egypt. He became the first AOC to arrive by jet when taking over a command.

David set up home in a houseboat, which he described as “large and comfortable and very cool in the summer.” His work in Egypt’s Suez Canal Zone involved a lot of office work and “high-powered meetings” but also provided plenty of opportunities for flying. In one of his letters home he wrote:

I’m holding a big air exercise from Tuesday to Saturday next week. We’ve got quite a big air force here at the moment and I thought it would be a good thing  to keep them occupied. I hope they’ll enjoy it.

The big air exercise David referred to was most likely ‘Hightime’, which was the subject of the above-mentioned British Pathé film. I found this gem after searching online for the word “Atchedey”, having noticed that that the letters ‘r’ and ‘l’ used consecutively (“rl”) might in some situations be interpreted as a ‘d’. (See Lost in transcription for more misspellings of the surname Atcherley). The film shows David getting into his aircraft (from about 47 seconds in to 1:10) and, right at the end (from about 3:43), talking to his officers in the Operations Room.

British Pathé film from YouTube.

David Atcherley’s last letter home was sent on Sunday 1 June 1952. He told of his planned move to “the big house” the following Saturday, and of a party he was going to give for senior local RAF and Army personnel so that they could all get to know each other. He also said:

I’m off to Cyprus tomorrow morning, merely for the fly. I’ll deliver a letter to the Air Commodore, have lunch and fly back here in the evening. It’s Whit Monday tomorrow, a holiday and nothing much to do locally unless you sail. 

It appears that either David’s plans changed after he wrote, or that he decided to make another visit to Cyprus on Saturday 7 June. Either way, at about 6 o’clock on the morning of that fateful day the Air Vice Marshall set off from RAF Fayid for Nicosia in a Meteor PR 10 jet, WB.161. David Atcherley was never seen again, and the last that was heard from him was by radio, 2 minutes after take-off, when he checked on the weather conditions at Nicosia.

Later that day, two messages were sent “by secure means” from Middle East Air Force headquarters to the Air Ministry in London, both headed FLASH SECRET. One of them read as follows:

Regret Atcherley overdue beyond maximum endurance on lone flight to Cyprus this morning in a Meteor 10. Full search and rescue measures already in operation. Shall extend air search to Southern Areas of Turkey if necessary. Foreign Office may like to know this.

Para. 2. Understand he did not take dinghy pack or Mae West and had ejector seat taken out before leaving.

Para. 3. Normal casualty reporting action will be taken by 205 Group as necessary but feel you and C.A.S. will like to have this stop press news at once for personal information. 

(‘Mae West’ was the popular nickname for the inflatable life-jacket used by RAF personnel at that time.)

Further messages to the Air Ministry followed on 8 June. It was confirmed that an “intensive air and sea search” had taken place during daylight hours for two days running, but the results had been “entirely negative”. The search operation had begun 40 minutes after David was overdue at Nicosia, with the despatch of Meteor and Vampire jets followed by Lincolns and Valettas, and then by Mosquitos and Beaufighters. Lancasters from Malta also joined in. In total, 50 search sorties were flown from the Canal Zone, and a large number from Cyprus. Searches were made by forces from Turkey, Lebanon and Israel too, and by an American aircraft. In addition, naval vessels were engaged.

Finally, on 10 June 1952, the Middle East Air Force (MEAF) despatched the following message: “Land search in Port Said area and small area in Lebanon continued on June 9 with negative results. All search action has now been discontinued and regret there can be little hope of Atcherley’s survival.”

On 12 June, J H Barnes wrote to David’s twin, Air Vice Marshall Richard Atcherley:


I am commanded by the Air Council to inform you that they have learned with profound regret that the search for the aircraft piloted by your brother, Air Vice-Marshall D.F.W. Atcherley, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., on 7th June has proved unsuccessful.

The Air Council, recalling your brother’s long record of distinguished service, desire me to extend to your parents and to yourself an expression of their deepest sympathy.

To this day, the circumstances in which David Atcherley disappeared remain a mystery. Weather conditions and visibility were good, and David’s Meteor was fully fuelled giving him 2¾ hours flying time at height. An initial suggestion was “unconsciousness of Pilot through oxygen failure”, and in a letter to the Marshall of the RAF dated 12 June 1952, Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Sanders of the MEAF wrote: “I am afraid the only conclusion is that he went straight in and down into the sea, probably through lack of oxygen. The sickening thing is that we have no real clue at all as to what happened.”

Sir Theodore McEvoy later stated that David had said to him during a conversation some three weeks before he was lost, “What do you know about the instruments in these aeroplanes? I can’t see them!” He suggested that as David never wore spectacles when flying, his inability to read his flight instruments might have played a part in his disappearance. The Pathé news footage of David getting into his aircraft during the ‘Hightime’ exercise certainly shows that he was not wearing glasses on that occasion.

Meteor PR 10

With his own letter to the Air Marshall of 12 June 1952, Sir Arthur Sanders enclosed a number of additional messages expressing sympathy and loss, which had been sent to him by the local British Embassy and by representatives of the armed forces in the Canal Zone. One was from the Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Land Forces, General Sir Brian H Robertson, who wrote:

Atcherley had only been with us a few months. Right from the start he captured the affection and admiration of my officers to a most remarkable degree. I had never met him before myself, but from the moment when I first shook hands with him I knew that I liked him.

I have heard men say of him, without meaning to be unkind, that he was crazy, if so it was the craziness of real heroism. He was a man of whom your Service can be immensely proud. We in the Army are terribly sad at his loss and shall always remember our association with him with gratitude and great respect.

Of course, the man who felt David Atcherley’s loss the most was his twin brother Richard. He had wanted to fly out and join in the search operation for David, but this was very sensibly ruled out by Basil Embry. To complement the private family memorial service in York, Richard organised a public service in London which was attended by high-ranking representatives from all three of the armed forces, various dignitaries, about 120 officers and wives from Fighter Command, and 50 from other RAF Commands. A further service held at Ismailia in Egypt gave Richard the opportunity to fly, alone and in a Meteor, the same course that David had set out on but never completed. John Pudney, the Atcherley twins biographer, later summed up the impact on Richard thus:

The loss of David was more profound in its impact than that of any other blood relation. Close friends observed the profundity of the shock, the fracture of the pattern of a lifetime. … no words can describe the sense of desolation and loneliness at losing one whom he had lightly described as his ‘better half.’

Picture credits. Eastern Mediterranean, showing RAF Fayid and Nicosia: Based on a public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. Meteor PR 10: Photo, from Flight magazine, 27 May 1955, page 729, taken from Flight Global archive, which states “we’re positively encouraging you to link to, copy and paste from, and contribute to the development of this unique record of aerospace and aviation history”.


[1] John Pudney (1960), A Pride of Unicorns. Pages 217-221.
[2] Royal Air Force (RAF) Officers 1939-1945. At: World War II Unit Histories and Officers (website, accessed 22 Jun 2015).
[3] Air Vice Marshal D F W Atcherley. At: Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation (website, accessed 22 Jun 2015).
[4] The National Archives, Kew, item ref AIR 8/1688: Air Vice Marshal D.F.W.Atcherley’s disappearance between Fayid and Cyprus and subsequent search June 1952. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.
[5] London Gazette, number 38980 (supplement), 28 July 1950, page 3939.

Glover, mercer, drapers – Roger and Elizabeth Atcherley

The first Atcherley to be listed in a trade directory appears to have been Roger, a mercer and draper in Whitchurch, Shropshire in the late 1700s. Among those Atcherleys claiming second place (and certainly the first female Atcherley to be so listed) was none other than Roger’s wife, Elizabeth.

Roger Atcherley, who was named after his father, was the youngest of nine children. Born on 9 June 1743, he was baptised a week later on 16 June at Shrewsbury St Chad. Although his father was married to Ann (nee Thomas), the parish register named his parents as “Roger & Joan”. This was presumably an error on the part of the clerk as I have found no other evidence to suggest that Roger Atcherley junior was born out of wedlock.

Roger Atcherley senior, a tanner, died some 12 years after his youngest son’s birth and was buried at Shrewsbury St Chad on 16 December 1755. A little over a year later, on 16 February 1757, the widowed Ann Atcherley apprenticed 14-year-old Roger to James Burley of Shrewsbury, a glover, at a cost of £20. Burley was a member of the Shrewsbury Glovers’ Company (also known as the Glovers’ & Skinners’ Company), and was a Warden of that trade guild in 1764 and 1765.

In setting Roger as an apprentice, Ann Atcherley’s goal was to ensure that he would learn a trade which would provide him with a secure future. In this Ann was successful, although Roger did not remain a glover. Nor did he stay in Shrewsbury. The next record I have found in which Roger features is that of his marriage, on 3 January 1768, to Elizabeth Scripture. The wedding took place at the church of St Alkmund in Whitchurch, Shropshire (pictured right). Roger lived and traded in that town for the rest of his life.

Unlike her husband, Elizabeth was a native of Whitchurch. With her unusual surname it was quite easy to find a record of her baptism, although for some time an element of doubt remained as to whether or not the record I had found really did relate to Roger’s wife. The reason for this was that Elizabeth Scripture was baptised on 7 April 1729, over 14 years before her husband was born.

(It appears that Elizabeth had two sisters, Ann, who was baptised at Whitchurch on 2 July 1726 and married Samuel Trevor at nearby Prees on 8 June 1752; and Mary, for whom I have found no baptism record, but whose marriage to George Jackson of Malpas, Cheshire, was witnessed by Elizabeth Scripture at Whitchurch on 15 October 1758. The girls’ parents, John Scripture and Elizabeth, neé Barrow, were buried at Whitchurch on 23 January 1736/7 and 2 March 1786 respectively.)

Most of the marriages for which I have seen records during my family history research – certainly those relating to first marriages – have involved men and women of around the same age, but usually with the groom being older than the bride. Nuptials between a man of 24 and a woman of 38 most certainly do not fit the typical pattern. Elizabeth’s age at the time of her wedding might go some way to explaining why she and Roger only had two children. The baptisms of their son John and daughter Mary Atcherley took place at Whitchurch on 22 November 1768 and 16 October 1773 respectively.

Although the record of John Atcherley’s baptism gives no information beyond the names of parents and child, the entry in the parish register for Mary’s baptism shows that the family was then living in High Street, Whitchurch. An indication that Roger must then have been trading successfully in that town is that he was one of 32 men of Whitchurch who formed a society for pursuing and prosecuting felons. This society was announced in the Shrewsbury Chronicle of 10 July:

Whitchurch, Shropshire, June 24, 1773.
Whereas divers Persons guilty of Felony, Burglary, Grand and Petit Larceny, frequently escape punishment, either through fear of the expence which may attend their prosecution, or for want of an immediate and vigorous pursuit, or from a principle of ill-timed lenity and moderation,
Notice is therefore hereby given,
That in order to prevent in some degree the evil aforesaid, We, whose names are hereunto subscribed, inhabitants of the parish of Whitchurch aforesaid, have formed ourselves into a Society for the purpose of raising a sufficient fund to defray the expence of pursuing, detecting, and prosecuting with the utmost rigour, such as shall be guilty or shall be suspected to be guilty of the crimes or offences above specified, against the person or property of any member of this society. …

A notice published in another newspaper (Chester’s Adam’s Weekly Courant) on 4 May 1779 shows that “Mr. Roger Atcherley, Mercer” had lately been the holder of “A very convenient freehold messuage, or dwelling-house, with the Shop and Appurtenances thereunto belonging, pleasantly and advantageously situated for carrying out any Business in the High-street, in Whitchurch”. The property was to be let, so it appears that Roger may have moved to alternative premises around that time. Further particulars of the property were to be obtained from a Mrs Trevor of Whitchurch – possibly Roger’s sister-in-law Ann.

The 1784 edition of Bailey’s British Directory; or, Merchant’s and Trader’s Useful Companion listed Roger Atcherley as a mercer and draper in Whitchurch. This is, as I have already mentioned, the earliest listing for a member of the Atcherley family which I have found so far in any trade directory. (See Directories Part 1.)

Bailey’s British Directory did not give an address for Roger in Whitchurch, but he was most likely still trading in the town’s High Street. When Robert B Jones, a bookseller, stationer and bookbinder of High Street, Whitchurch, announced in 1791 that he was “removed across the street” his new shop was said to be “next door to Mr. Atcherley’s.”

Despite the fact that he was much younger than his wife, Roger Atcherley predeceased Elizabeth. He was buried at the church where he had married and where his children had been baptised, Whitchurch St Alkmund, on 27 April 1793. He was 49 years old.

Although she was aged 64 when she lost her husband, Elizabeth Atcherley evidently took over the family business. She was listed as a draper amongst the “Traders &c.” of Whitchurch, Shropshire in volume 4 of The Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce, and Manufacture  (published around 1800, see extract, left).

This directory, published some four decades before the census of 1841, provides a fairly detailed picture of the town in which Elizabeth Atcherley and her children then lived. Whitchurch was described as “a pleasant and populous market-town”, 12 miles from Nantwich, 20 from Chester and Newport, 22 from Newcastle under Lyme, and 161 miles from London. The town had coach services to Birmingham, Manchester and London, and mail services to Malpas and Chester, and to and from London.

In addition to the gentry and the clergy who headed the list of the principal inhabitants of Whitchurch, there were other residents undertaking a wide range of occupations: an architect, attorneys, an auctioneer, bakers, booksellers (including the aforementioned Robert Jones), braziers, breeches makers, a bricklayer, butchers, cabinet makers, chandlers (including tallow chandlers), cheese factors, a china shop proprietor, clock (and watch) makers, a collar maker, a confectioner, coopers, curriers, a “Chymist and Druggist”, excise officers, farmers, grocers, flax dressers, a gardener, a habit maker, hairdressers, thehead of a School for Ladies (possibly at Ellesmere House, pictured right), a heel maker, a hosier, hucksters, ironmongers, joiners, a liquor merchant, maltsters, a mantua maker, a mason, mercers, milliners, a “nailor”, a plasterer, two plumbers and glaziers, rope makers, saddlers, shoe makers, a sieve maker, smiths, a stay maker, a stocking weaver, surgeons, “taylors”, a timber merchant, a tanner, a turner, an umbrella maker, victuallers (there were no less than 23 public houses), wheelwrights and writing masters. There were also other drapers, some listed as linen and woollen drapers.

This, then, was the town in which Elizabeth Atcherley was trading – and the town in which she died. Notice of Elizabeth’s death was included in the May 1800 edition of The Monthly Magazine (albeit with her surname given as Alcherley). “Elizabeth Atcherley Widow”, aged 71, was buried at Whitchurch St Alkmund on 20 February 1800.

Roger and Elizabeth’s daughter Mary Atcherley followed her parents to the grave on 30 March 1802. Aged 28 (the burial register knocked a year off her true age), Mary was unmarried. Her brother John was wed the following year (one of the witnesses was Ann Trevor, possibly John’s maternal aunt) and through him the Atcherley family continued to trade in Whitchurch. John Atcherley was a victualler rather than a mercer or draper.  In time however, one of John’s sons would take up the trade carried on by Roger and Elizabeth Atcherley in Whitchurch.

Picture credits. Whitchurch St Alkmund: Photo © Copyright Carol Walker, taken from Geograph, adapted, used, and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence. Extract from the Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce, and Manufacture, published circa 1800 and therefore out of copyright. Ellesmere House, Whitchurch: Photo © Copyright David Dixon, taken from Geograph, adapted, used, and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.


[1] St Chad, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, parish register covering 1743. Entry for baptism of Roger Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1916), Shropshire Parish Registers. Diocese of Lichfield, Volume XVI (St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury), page 1069 viewed at the Internet Archive and at Mel Lockie’s website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P01575-2, Film 908236.
[2] The National Archives, Kew, Reference IR 1/53 folio 28, page 16 (Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Books). Copy viewed at Ancestry – Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811.
[3] C H Drinkwater (1887), Shrewsbury Trade Guilds. The Glovers’ Company. In: Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. Volume X. Page 43. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[4] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1768. Entry for Roger Atcherley and Elizabeth Scripture. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M03756-1, Film 501818, 503826, 503827, 510683, 510684.
[5] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1729. Entry for baptism of Elizabeth Scripture. Copy viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03756-2, Film 510683, 510684.
[6] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1726. Entry for baptism of Ann Scripture. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms (surname indexed as Scriphure).
[7] Prees, Shropshire, parish register covering 1752. Entry for marriage of Samuel Trevor and Ann Scripture. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages.
[8] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1758. Entry for marriage of George Jackson and Mary Scripture. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages.
[9] FamilySearch shows marriage of John Scripture and Elizabeth Barrow. Film 1655540, Digital folder 4012056, Image 296.
[10] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1736/7. Entry for burial of John Scripture. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.
[11] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1786. Entry for burial of Elizabeth Scripture, widow. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.
[12] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1768. Entry for baptism of John Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03756-2, Film 510683, 510684.
[13] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1773. Entry for baptism of Mary Acherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03756-2, Film 510683, 510684.
[14] Shrewsbury Chronicle, 10 Jul 1773, page 2. Copy viewed at Findmypast – British Newspapers 1710-1953 (search term Atcherlcy).
[15] Adams Weekly Courant (Chester), issue 2424, 4 May 1779, page 2.
[16] Bailey’s British Directory; or, Merchant’s and Trader’s Useful Companion for the year 1784. Indexed at Ancestry – U.K. and U.S. Directories, 1680-1830.
[17] Chester Chronicle, 1 Apr 1791, page 3.
[18] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1793. Entry for burial of Roger Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.
[19] The Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce, and Manufacture (circa 1800), page 745. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[20] The Monthly Magazine, No. 58 (No. 4 of Vol. 9), 1 May 1800, page 305. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[21] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1800. Entry for burial of Elizabeth Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.
[22] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1802. Entry for burial of Mary Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.
[23] St Alkmund, Whitchurch, Shropshire, marriage register. Entry dated 20 Jan 1803 for John Atcherly and Martha Furmston. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M03756-1, Film 501818, 503826, 503827, 510683, 510684.

Richard Atcherley in pre-WW2 Germany – Part 1

Ever since the time when the German government announced the intention of forming an Air Force, the expansion and development of that force has been a matter of the highest interest, not only to all keen officers in the R.A.F., but also to everyone in England. So many conflicting reports and wild rumours are current concerning the air power of Germany, and the opinions of members of the Government itself seem strangely at variance, that both Atcherley and myself determined to try and find out for ourselves something about the German Air Force, its personnel, its aeroplanes and how its methods of expansion compared with those of this country.  – H V Rowley, 1936

Following the First World War, Germany’s air forces were dissolved under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  Under Nazi rule in the 1930s however, the Versailles Treaty was repudiated and on 26 February 1935 a new German Air Force – the Luftwaffe – came into being.

Group Captain Richard Llewelyn Roger Atcherley – known to his friends and fellow officers as Dick or Batchy – was at this time a test pilot at the Experimental Station of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough in Hampshire. Squadron Leader Herbert Victor Rowley was based at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Martlesham in Suffolk. Undeterred by the fact that neither of them could speak German, the two officers hatched their plot to travel to Berlin, in their own time and at their own expense, to satisfy their curiosity about the new German Air Force.

Although their visit was unofficial, Atcherley and Rowley travelled to Germany with the RAF’s permission, and while there they liaised with (and received support from) the Air Attaché and Assistant Air Attaché in Berlin. Although he was the junior officer, Richard Atcherley was essential to the success of the ‘mission’. Rowley acknowledged that it was Atcherley’s “natural genius for making friends [which] was largely responsible for our success in getting into touch with many people in the German Air Force and in the German aviation industry.”

The two officers left England on Tuesday 6 October 1936, and returned just over a week later on Thursday 15 October. Transport for the journey was a Percival Gull aeroplane (an example of which is shown in the photo below), which was loaned for the purpose by “our good friend Mr. Robert Blackburn.” (Blackburn had given Richard Atcherley an engineering apprenticeship with his aeroplane company in Leeds back in 1921.)

Rowley’s 44-page type-written report on the trip was prepared “in conjunction with” Atcherley, and R L R Atcherley’s signature appeared after Rowley’s at the end of the document. There can be little doubt however that Rowley was the sole author. He noted that “Since this visit was unofficial so is this report, and much of it is written for my own amusement.”

The main body of the report took the form of a diary, recording not just the visits made to aircraft factories and air force establishments but also the many marvellous luncheons and evening entertainments which the two officers attended. Thus the report, originally secret but now available to all at The National Archives in Kew, enables us to share in the amusement that Rowley (and Atcherley) experienced.

On the RAF officers’ first full day in Germany, for example, Atcherley and Rowley had lunch with the Air Attaché, Group Captain Don, at the Haus der Flieger or Aero Club (formerly the old Prussian Parliament in the days “before Germany decided that parliaments were a waste of time, but an Aero Club was a necessity”):

We were overjoyed to notice that the spirit of old Germany still persists for in this modern club the lavatory is equipped with a most excellent vomitorium fitted with chromium plated bars for hand grips. Evidently the German Air Council has a reasonably broad-minded view of the drink question.

Das Berliner Abgeordnetenhaus – the former Haus der Flieger

There was another reason for the inclusion of seemingly superfluous detail of the trip in the report. The diary was followed by several pages of “deductions and conclusions”. Rowley explained that he felt it was important to say “what one did during the visit, as otherwise little credence may be placed in such deductions and conclusions.” He also felt that it was necessary to show those in authority that RAF officers going abroad were not doing so “with the fixed intention of first of all flying over all prohibited areas, secondly landing on all prohibited aerodromes, and finally spending his time on the ground in the local brothel.”

The first two of those fears, if they were indeed held by senior staff, were possibly justified when one of the officers travelling abroad was Richard Atcherley! As for the third concern, Rowley reported that on the evening of Sunday 11 October:

Dick Atcherley made immediate friends with Achtenberg, who afterwards proved most useful to us and is a most likeable sort of chap. We returned to the Eden for tea which, incidentally, is one of the few places in Berlin where one can see reasonably pretty girls.   Achtenberg kindly offered to supply us with any we liked, but we replied that, although we thanked him kindly, we would sooner have a cup of tea.

Incidentally, the foregoing very British response to Herr Achtenberg’s offer, and the fact that Richard Atcherley never married, should not be taken to mean that Batchy did not have an eye for the ladies. I say this because Rowley’s diary for Friday 9 October concluded as follows:

In the evening we were driven back to Berlin and were entertained to supper by Dr. Merkel at the Wintergarden. Dr. Merkel produced a very attractive niece who evidently created a certain impression on Atcherley who not only invited her to fly in the Gull, but also later in the evening stated that he thought intermarriage between the two nations would be an excellent thing and should be encouraged.

Richard Atcherley’s “natural genius for making friends” was enhanced by the fact that he had a twin brother, David, who was an equally popular RAF officer. During the above-mentioned lunch at the Haus der Flieger on Wednesday 7 October, our airmen met Colonel Hannesse of the German Air Intelligence Service. Hannesse “had met David Atcherley and consequently gave a very effusive greeting to his brother, a very excusable mistake with the Atcherley twins.”

Hannesse proved to be a useful contact, one of many made during the luncheons, dinners and parties which Atcherley and Rowley attended. He did not however provide the RAF officers with their desired visit to the Heinkel aircraft works at Rostock, despite Rowley’s best efforts to secure this during a party on the evening of Monday 12 October. No matter – at the same party, Richard Atcherley had made the acquaintance of Prince Henry Reuss, a major in the German Air Force. Rowley wrote:

Finally I signalled failure to Dick who by this time had got the Prince in a fairly old and mild condition.   The Prince rallied at once, fetched along General Wennegen, who seemed quite pleased to meet me again, and in a few moments had arranged, with the consent of Group Captain Don, to have us flown out to Rostock in company with Count Beissel next morning.

There was one senior figure in the German Air Force with whom Richard Atcherley was already well acquainted. Ernst Udet (pictured right) was the second-highest scoring German air ace of World War One, and by 1936 he was director of research and development for the Luftwaffe. He and Atcherley had first met in Egypt and later in London, and both attended the National Air Races in America as stunt pilots in the early 1930s (see A Day at the Air Races (Part 1) for Richard’s 1930 visit). On Thursday 8 October Atcherley and Rowley had lunch with Udet and Dr Merkel (whose niece impressed Atcherley the following day) at the Esplanade Hotel. “Udet arrived in full uniform, blazing with medals,” wrote Rowley, who went on to say:

Udet is indeed a colourful personality.   It rather surprised me that this man, who is the most famous of the pilots of the old Richthofen Squadron left alive today, and who for years has been making a living as an aeroplane pilot, should now hold a post of such responsibility. However, in spite of a certain wildness and a stubborn refusal to assume the solemn airs of a high staff officer, he is clearly a man of intelligence and ability … He is of course an old friend of Atcherleys …

I have to say that I see something of Richard Atcherley himself in Rowley’s description of Udet, so it is no surprise that these two men were such good friends.

Ultimately, the schmoozing and networking paid off and Atcherley and Rowley did get to see for themselves something of the German Air Force’s personnel, aeroplanes and methods of expansion. What they saw led Herbert Rowley to draw some stark conclusions.

> On to Part 2

Picture credits. Percival Gull: Photo by RuthAS, taken from Wikimedia Commons; adapted and used under a Creative Commons licence. Das Berliner Abgeordnetenhaus – the former Haus der Flieger: Photo by Beek100, taken from Wikimedia Commons; adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence. Ernst Udet: Photo by Conrad and held by the German Federal Archive (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1984-112-13 / Conrad / CC-BY-SA), taken from Wikimedia Commons; adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence.


[1] The National Archives, Kew, item ref AIR 40/2086: Report on a visit to Germany by Sqn. Ldr. H.V. Rowley and Flt. Lt. R.L. Atcherley. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.
[2] Luftwaffe. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 18 June 2015).
[3] Air Marshal Sir Richard Atcherley. At: Air of Authority (website, accessed 15 Jun 2015).
[4] Air Commodore H V Rowley. At: Air of Authority (website, accessed 15 Jun 2015).
[5] John Pudney (1960), A Pride of Unicorns. Page 33.
[6] Ernst Udet. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 18 June 2015).

Thomas and Jane Atcherley: Evidence of matrimony in a case at Chancery

At the churches of Shrewsbury St Alkmund (pictured right) and St Chad, from 1692 to 1698, four Atcherley children were baptised, sons and daughters of Thomas and “Jane his wife”. But where was the record of Jane’s marriage to Thomas Atcherley? Even when Jane’s maiden surname became known to me, I was left wondering about the whereabouts of her wedding. In the end a Chancery case has explained the missing matrimonial information – and revealed much more besides.

Thomas Atcherley was the youngest son of John Atcherley of Stanwardine in the Fields. Baptised on 3 May 1668 at the parish church of Baschurch All Saints, he was the fourth of five children born to John (then aged 56) and his second wife Mary (née Spendlove). Following John Atcherley’s death in 1672, Thomas and his siblings were brought up by their mother.

It was most likely the widowed Mary Atcherley who arranged Thomas’s apprenticeship to George Evanson of Shrewsbury’s Mercer’s Company in 1682. (Thomas’s father John had been apprenticed, but to a member of the Drapers Company, in a similar fashion back in 1627 – see John Atcherley, draper of Shrewsbury). The Mercers, Ironmongers, and Goldsmith’s Company (to give this body its full name) had been in existence since at least 1424-5. Along with the Drapers Company it was one of the “two most important Guilds of Shrewsbury”. Thomas was “turned over from George Evanson to Robert Hill” in 1688, and would have completed his seven years apprenticeship about a year later, aged around 21.

Almost certainly it was through his association with the Mercers Company that Thomas Atcherley met his wife-to-be Jane. Although the renowned genealogist Joseph Morris (1792 – 1860), in his Genealogy of Shropshire, claimed that Thomas married Jane Williams of West Felton, Jane’s true identity was revealed to me by the Atcherley pedigrees and genealogical notes from the collection of the Rev John Newling (1762 – 1838). (See also Atcherleys reunited, in which this same source resolved a mystery involving Thomas Atcherley’s younger sister Mary.) Through the Rev Archdeacon Plymley, Newling knew that Thomas Atcherley of Salop, mercer, had married Jane, daughter of Mr Richard Plymley of Shrewsbury.

Richard, his surname written as Plimley, was listed as one of the Wardens of the Mercers Company in 1684. The following year however, he was recorded as “Mr Richard Plimly mercer from Snt Chads” in very different circumstances – an entry in the parish register of Shrewsbury St Julian for his burial on 2 July 1685.

Three days before his burial, “Richard Plymley of the Town of Shrowesburie in the County of Salop Mercer” made his last will and testament. He made provision for Anne his wife (who was to receive £200 plus an annual payment of £40), for his daughters Jane and Anne (they were bequeathed £500 apiece, to be paid to them on marriage or at the age of 20 whichever came first, with an annual sum of £10 each in the meantime) and for his son Joseph (who was to receive Richard’s lands and property in Shrewsbury and at Norton in Hales).

Richard Plymley’s will ended with a request “to my deere wife to bee kind unto my poore Children” and the appointment of his “said deere wife” to be sole executrix. But just four weeks after Richard’s burial, “Mrs Anne Plimly widow from Snt Chads” was also interred at St Julian’s. Jane, the eldest surviving child of Richard and Anne, was only 16 (or thereabouts) at that time, having been baptised at Shrewsbury St Chad in 1669.

Before she died, Anne Plymley had taken steps to ensure that her children would receive the legacies bequeathed to them by their father. In her own will, made on 21 July 1685, Anne stated: “And whereas my late deare Husband Richard Plimley did make his last Will and Testament which I have not yet proved … my mind is that the contents of my said Husbands Will shall be performed in every thing by my Executors hereafter named”.

Jane Plymley probably reached the age of 20 in the Summer of 1689. It appears however that she did not receive the inheritance which was then due to her. Nor, it would seem, did she receive it when she married Thomas Atcherley. Thomas and Jane therefore submitted a bill of complaint to the Court of Chancery in London, in an attempt to obtain what was rightfully theirs.

Although various documents relating to this and subsequent cases have survived and are now kept at The National Archives at Kew (pictured right), they do not seem to include the outcome of Thomas and Jane’s actions. What I do know is that in pursuing their legal case, one of the problems that Thomas and Jane came up against was the same one which I encountered over 300 years later while pursuing the couple’s genealogy. That problem was the absence of a record of their marriage! To address this issue, Thomas Atcherley’s brother Roger, a Counsellor at Law, prepared a list of questions (or interrogatories) which were to be answered under oath by witnesses:

Imprimis Doe you know the parties plts & Defts or any & which of them & how long have you soe known them. Speake yor Knowledge herein with reasons of and for the same.

Item Were you present when the Complts were married when & by whom were they married, have they cohabitted together since as Husband & Wife, speake your Knowledge & beliefe herein with yor reasons of & for the same

Item have the Defts or any & which of them received all or any & what parte of last Michas [= Michaelmas] & Lady Day Rents due for certaine Messuages Lands & Tenements late of Richard Plymley deceased late ffather of the Complt Jane situate lying and being in the Towne of Shrewsbury & Norton in the County of Salop, speake your Knowledge & beliefe herein with yor reasons of & for the same

The “Depposicons and sayings of Witnesses” were “taken at the dwelling house of Dorothy Cotton widow situate in Baschurch in the County of Salop” on 4 May 1693. One of the three witnesses was Robert Yates, a yeoman of Baschurch aged “ffifty yeares or thereabouts”. He deposed that he had known Thomas Atcherley from his childhood, and Jane for about five years.

Robert Yates also stated that he had been present and had seen Thomas and Jane married by “George Hudson Vicar of Baschurch in the parish Church of Baschurch aforesaid neere about Two yeares since about Eight of the Clocke in the Forenoone of one Lords day and that they have Cohabited loveingly as husband and wife ever since And the reason of this his beliefe is that hee hath bin severall tymes att their dwelling house in Shrewsbury in the said County of Salop and particularly at the baptizing of a child of their bodies begotten as this Deponent is informed”.

Another witness was Thomas Atcherley’s sister Mary, then aged about 19. She deposed that she had known Jane for about seven years, which gives us a clue as to when Thomas might first have met the young lady who was to become his wife. The record of Mary’s deposition concluded:

To the second Interrogatorie this Deponent saith that shee was psent [= present] and did see the Complts [Complainants] Thomas Acherley and Jane his wife married by George Hudson Viccar of the parish Church of Baschurch one Lords day betweene the houres of Eight and Twelve in the forenoone in the said parish Church of Baschurch aforesaid neere 2 yeares since and that shee saw them bedded together the first night and severall tymes since and that they have cohabited loveingly ever since as husband and wife att their dwelling house in Shrewsbury

The key witness was George Hudson himself, then aged “ffifty one yeares or thereabouts”. He had known both Thomas and Jane from their childhoods, and had in fact baptised Thomas. His deposition continued:

To the Second Interrogatory this Deponent saith that hee this Deponent being Viccar of the parish Church of Baschurch in the said County of Salop by vertue of a Licence from Sr Richard Raines Knt Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfeild and Coventry bearinge date the nineteenth day of July One thousand Six hundred ninety one to him directed did upon one Lords day in the month of August in the said yeare of our Lord god One thousand Six hundred ninety one Marry the Complt Thomas Acherley and Jane his wife in the Parish Church of Baschurch aforesaid betweene the houres of Eight and twelve of the Clocke of the aforenoone of the same day according to the order of the Church of England by law established …

Even though George Hudson made a deposition along with Mary Atcherley, to confirm details of the marriage which he had failed to record in the Baschurch parish register, I suspect he also neglected to enter details of Mary’s own marriage – which almost certainly took place at Baschurch – a few years later (see Atcherleys reunited). On the plus side, despite his failure to record Thomas and Jane’s marriage in the parish register – because of it, in fact – I now know far more about that happy couple than would otherwise have been the case.

To be sure, I don’t have an exact date for the nuptials. But I can say that Thomas Atcherley and Jane Plymley, having met around 1686, were married by licence at Baschurch one Sunday morning in August 1691; that family members saw them “bedded” on the first night after their wedding; and that Thomas and Jane cohabited together lovingly at their home in Shrewsbury, where they were visited by both family and friends. I am very glad that when I chose the documents I wanted to study at The National Archives on Saturday, I took a chance on the Chancery case of Thomas and Jane Atcherley!

Picture credits. Shrewsbury St Alkmund: from The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury, 2nd edition, volume I, published 1837 and therefore out of copyright. Apprentices and Wardens of the Mercers Company: from Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, published 1885 and therefore out of copyright. The National Archives, Kew: photo by the author.


[1] Shrewsbury St Alkmund, Shropshire, parish register covering 1692. Entry dated 29 September for baptism of “John the Sonn of Thomas Atcherley & Jane his wife”. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed (as John Thomas, parents Thomas Atcherley and Jane) at FamilySearch, Batch C03722-2, Film 510675.
[2] Shrewsbury St Alkmund, Shropshire, parish register covering 1694. Entry dated 10 April for baptism of “Mary the daughter of Thomas Atcherley & Jane his wife”. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed (as Mary Thomas, parents Thomas Atcherley and Jane) at FamilySearch, Batch C03722-2, Film 510675.
[3] Shrewsbury St Alkmund, Shropshire, parish register covering 1696. Entry dated 5 April for baptism of “Richard the sonn of Thomas Atcherley and Jane his wife”. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed (as Richard Thomas, parents Thomas Atcherley and Jane) at FamilySearch, Batch C03722-2, Film 510675.
[4] Shrewsbury St Chad, Shropshire, parish register covering 1698. Entry dated 20 November for “Ann daughter of Thomas Atcherley & Jane his wife mercer”, born 15th. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P01575-1, Film 908235.
[5] Baschurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1668. Entry for Thomas Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-1, Film 510651.
[6] W A Leighton (1885), The Guilds of Shrewsbury. In: Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. Part II, volume VIII (Feb 1885), pages 269 and 285; Part III, volume VIII (June 1885), pages 376 and 367.
[7] Joseph Morris (undated), Genealogy of Shropshire. Volume 1, page 285. Extracted data at FamilySearch, Welsh Medieval Database Primarily of Nobility and Gentry, entry for Jane Williams. (Note: This part of the FamilySearch site was ‘down for maintenance’ on 10 and 11 Jun 2015.)
[8] Staffordshire Record Office item S. MS.256/8/5, undated, Pedigrees and genealogical notes from the collection of the Revd. John Newling for various families including Atcherley. Indexed at Gateway to the Past.
[9] Staffordshire Record Office item S. MS.269/1/14, undated, Pedigrees of families in Shropshire (etc) from the collection of the Revd. John Newling: Atcherley, co. Salop. Indexed at Gateway to the Past.
[10] Unknown author (1892), Corbet-Winder of Vaynor Park. Pedigree. In: Collections Historical and Archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire and its Borders. Volume XXVI. Pages 253-4. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[11] The National Archives, Kew, item ref PROB 11/381/450: Will of Richard Plymley, Mercer of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Proved 24 Nov 1685. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.
[12] The National Archives, Kew, item ref PROB 11/381/117: Will of Anne Plymley, Widow of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Proved 18 Aug 1865. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.
[13] The National Archives, Kew, item ref C 22/8/25 (Court of Chancery, Six Clerks Office): Acherley v. Wareing. Depositions taken in the country. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue. Also indexed (with names) in The British Archivist, 1913, pages 76-77, snippets viewed at Google Books.
[14] The National Archives, Kew, item ref C 7/7/8 (Court of Chancery, Six Clerks Office) dated 1692 shows: Atcherly v Waringe. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.

Putting the genes into genealogy – Part 1

For many years, genealogists have constructed family trees, or pedigrees, by applying deductive reasoning (and in some cases blind faith or even wishful thinking) to oral and documentary evidence concerning individuals and their family relationships. Computers and the internet have made the records more accessible and furnished new tools for assembling trees, but haven’t changed the underlying process. In recent years however a completely new source of information has become available to genealogists: the stuff that makes us who we are, our DNA.

There are three types of DNA test used for genealogy, and all of them work by comparing elements of a person’s DNA with those of others who have taken the same test. The most useful for a surname study – such as my Atcherley One Name Study – is the Y-DNA  test. This uses the DNA passed from fathers to sons on the Y chromosome. In most cases the father’s surname is passed on along with his genes.

Since I am the son of a female Atcherley, if I took the Y-DNA test it would not help to reveal anything about my Atcherley ancestry. Even if I were a direct male line descendant of my Atcherley grandfather, great grandfather or great great grandfather, the test still would not help. This is because my 2x great grandfather, Henry Atcherley, was the offspring of Mary Atcherley and an unknown male. (I would, incidentally, very much like a few Atcherley males, who are descended from a continuous line of male Atcherleys, to take the Y-DNA test. If a few Atchley and Ackerley males took it too, we might establish whether or not people bearing these surnames share a common ancestry.)

Mitochondrial (or mt) DNA is passed down from a mother to her children, so testing this can help trace relatives descended from a common female ancestor. By its very nature this test is of no value to my Atcherley One Name Study. My mt-DNA comes from my mother, Elizabeth Atcherley, from her mother, Louisa Hall, from her mother, Harriet Richards, and so on.

Finally, there is the autosomal or ‘family finder’ test. This analyses DNA inherited from the full spectrum of  a person’s ancestors and can detect relations as distant as fifth cousins (those sharing the same 4x great grandparents). In my case, this test just might reveal something about my Atcherley ancestry. In theory at least, some of my DNA (around 1/32 or just over 3%) comes from my unknown 3x great grandfather, the father of Henry Atcherley. If he, or any of his siblings, have descendants alive today who have taken the autosomal DNA test, there is a chance that I would get a DNA match with them.

I am in any case a ‘learn by doing’ kind of person, so taking a test is probably the best way for me to find out what genetic genealogy has to offer. At “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” in Birmingham earlier this year, Ancestry offered me the opportunity to do just that, with their (autosomal) AncestryDNA test (see Part 1 of my report on the show). How could I refuse?

The process of taking the test is simplicity itself. Unlike other tests which require cheek swabs to be taken (a painless procedure, I should add), the AncestryDNA test is non-invasive – all you have to do is dribble some saliva into a tube. Once the saliva is at the correct level in the tube (in my head I can hear Mary Poppins saying “spit spot!”), the funnel is removed and the cap is screwed on. This releases a blue stabilising fluid into the tube (see photos below). Next, the test kit is activated online by entering the number printed on the tube, onto the Ancestry website (this is also when the saliva provider should be identified in the Ancestry family tree in which they appear). The tube then goes into a plastic bag, which is in turn sealed and placed into an pre-addressed, post-paid mailing box. This is then popped into a post box, and from this point the postal services and AncestryDNA take over.

Then, the waiting begins. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about DNA testing, it is that patience is required. It takes a while for the saliva sample to make its way across ‘the pond’. It takes a while longer for the analysis to be carried out and for the outcome to appear online. Ancestry advises that all this can take from 6 to 8 weeks. In my case, the email telling me that my results were ready arrived a little sooner than I was expecting.

The first thing that caught my eye when I viewed my results was my Ethnicity Estimate. This is another feature of the autosomal DNA test. Certain ‘genetic signatures’ occur more frequently in some populations than in others, and the presence of these signatures is used to provide a guide as to which peoples the test subject’s DNA has come from. I was quite prepared to see a mixture of ‘British’ and ‘Western European’ origins for my DNA, with perhaps a smattering of Scandinavian, reflecting the mixed ancestry that is typical of most Brits. And that is broadly what I got – along with a suggested 14% from Ireland.

Since I have never found even a hint of Irish ancestry while tracing my family tree, the news that I was (as I then saw it) 14% Irish was something of a surprise. Had one of my great grandmothers ‘played away from home’? A well-timed blog post about ethnicity (or ‘admixture’) results by genetic genealogist Debbie Kennet – Comparing admixture results from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA – put things into perspective:

Admixture tests really need to be used for entertainment purposes only at the present time, and the results should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. However, the tests can sometimes provide useful insights.

Digging a little deeper into the information available at Ancestry, I learned that the genetic signature for Ireland is “Primarily located in: Ireland, Wales, Scotland”. A map suggested that much of northern England – and the western Midlands (where many of my ancestors were born) – are also included. So a recent Irish incursion into my family tree is not necessarily indicated. Indeed, I may have no ‘Irish’ DNA at all. The imprecise nature of ethnicity estimates mean that behind the headline figure of 14% Ireland, my ‘Irish’ ethnicity estimate ranges from a maximum of 30% down to a minimum of zero!

On to the DNA ‘matches’ then. I have 38 pages of them. The closest matches however – a dozen of them – are on the first results page. They all fall into the “possible range” of 4th  to 6th  cousins, each of whom potentially share a pair of my 3rd, 4th or 5th  great grandparents. As far as I can tell, all of these matches are American. Three of them have no Ancestry family tree to compare with my own. Two of them have private Ancestry trees, which I cannot access without asking for (and being granted) permission. The match whose 4th  to 6th cousin status is rated at a confidence level of “Extremely High” (the rest are “Very high”) has a tree with just 24 people in it.

That leaves six matches with accessible family trees each containing hundreds or even thousands of people. For each match I can view a summary of their tree, with a basic pedigree chart and a list of the surnames within it. A handy feature is the “Map and Locations” summary which highlights the birthplaces  of the ancestors for both myself and my ‘match’. Though all my top matches have ancestors from the British isles, there is little geographic overlap between most of their ancestors and mine. My known ancestors, for the most part, were born in Birmingham and in counties to the north-west or south-east of that city (Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire). The map below shows their birth places on an Ancestry Map and Locations summary, with none of the ancestors of my DNA match in the vicinity!

I can also look at the public Ancestry family trees of my matches in the normal way, and I have done so to find surnames shared by their ancestors and mine and to look at the individual profiles of any likely ‘suspects’. But this has not yielded any promising leads, and I have not yet seen anything which has made me feel that contacting any of my matches would be worthwhile.

To some extent, this is not surprising. The Ancestry DNA test, which was launched initially in the USA, has not been available in the UK for very long. As more of Ancestry’s UK customers take the test, the chances of getting a closer match (closer both genetically and geographically) will increase. It’s a waiting game again.

While I’m waiting, there are other avenues to explore. When it comes to DNA tests for genealogists, Ancestry is not the only game in town. And I don’t have to take another test to find out what some of the other players can make of my genetic heritage. The raw data from my test results at Ancestry can be downloaded, and then uploaded to Family Tree DNA and Gedmatch for their analysis. I have in fact done exactly that, and the initial results will be the subject of Part 2 of this article.

Picture credits. DNA: Public domain image from Pixabay. Fred Atcherley ancestry, and AncestryDNA test kit in use: by the author. All other images are screen grabs from AncestryDNA.